2018 DEAR CITY
EDITORIAL BOARD SELECTION
by Sonya Huber
You’ve been called the “armpit of New England,” and the face you present to the world is a ragged one. The PSE&G coal plant’s candy-striped smokestack on Tongue Point at Long Island Sound, inscrutable buildings covered with scaffolding as if begging to be unbuilt. The Wheelabrator trash incinerator with its plume like a flag, down the road from public housing. They drive by and wince at you like a woman who’s been hit and ask, “Why didn’t she leave?” But here you are, the place itself, so leaving is beside the point.
What they don’t see is your memory of the Rooster River when it was the Uncowa, green artery for the Paugussett who hunted and fished and lived on Golden Hill. The English drew their lines and massacred the Pequots and took some Paugussett down with them, then sold 200 into slavery. They claimed lots and spaces and squares. The steamship came, the railroad came, industry came, the gunmakers came, Remington’s shot tower a vacant sentry now. Little Liberia, where Paugussett and freed Black men and women built their homes and worked on whaling ships and cooked for P.T. Barnum, whose elephants—honest—worked the stamping press at a toy factory in their winters off. The northeast side a ravaged silence where they once built bombs. The money’s gone somehow, the jobs are gone, and the city, left behind like a rapture of brownfields, raises its hands to be blamed by the sons of men who did the taking.
From I-95 they speed past and sneer at hollow-eyed rows of salmon-brick factory buildings laid in the 1800s, not knowing the story of phonographs, corsets, brake pads, bias seam tape, buttons: the treasures you have made. I first fell in love when I walked through a hole in the chain link to touch that old brick, saw how open and unguarded you are, how you let the Tree of Heaven grow. I joke that driving past the tops of those buildings on the way to work I will be most likely to crash not from texting, but from gazing at the faces of my friends as they change: the trees in the third-floor gutters leafing out, the purple graffiti blooming and covered with swaths of black, the boarded window, the board removed, the record of visits from new explorers bent on taking not much besides a memory.
Standing on Golden Hill out to the shining Sound, wandering to see art at small galleries, counting Puerto Rican flags in the windows after Hurricane Maria, eating pho, walking Park Avenue, finding history where history is not marked. Your poets and protests against police violence, your fifteen-year-old Jayson Negron killed-too-young by the police, your painted steps and vintage and performance and pizza, your empty storefronts home to a bike collective, a thousand shy efforts to remake the abandoned spaces. Your “I <3 BPT” t-shirts and street-corner demonstrations protesting the Trump visit to the Klein Auditorium where MLK spoke, your face-to-face with a security guard threatening to arrest me… no, that wasn’t you, Bridgeport. That man was clearly from somewhere else. Your spoken word, your WPKN radio, your archive. Your children. Your Cape Verdean and Congo, your immigrant, your Cesar Batalla and Young Lords Party feeding the schoolchildren. Your Nanny Goat Park and Seaside, your shining calm. Your Jasper McLevy, the only socialist mayor of a major city, did you know? ’33 to ’57; imagine that.
I was born to love you, it seems: child of the Rust Belt, sent south and then up East to work, and now, honest-to-god, I live across the street from a Superfund site, which is just superfun with a “d” and we won’t imagine what that stands for. Neither of us can seem to stop, and so it makes sense that I find myself nestled beneath one of your arms, city of Industria Crescimus: by industry we thrive. By any means necessary. When I first came to Connecticut, the Gold Coast of Fairfield County glinted in the distance like Vegas hidden in clapboard, and it wasn’t for me. So I took shelter behind you, tucking into a tiny house on your opposite border. I was using you, taking shelter behind your fucked-up face, hiding in a town that reminded me of the battered and confused place where I grew up. Now under one thin arm I bend close to your heart and put my head on your shoulder. I am not afraid of the marks of work. I understand the wounds inflicted by those who have left, and I love you and every line on your face.
Sonya Huber’s new essay collection is called Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Her other books include Opa Nobody, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton and a textbook, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers. She teaches at Fairfield University and directs Fairfield’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
SLAG GLASS CITY · Volume 4 · September 2018
Image header by Eric Kilby
Gosh, this is fantastic stuff. All love to Bridgeport and Sonya Huber!
There are those of us who have left by necessity but whose hearts remain. Our home, our roots, our Bridgeport forever.
Once so beautiful, now abandoned, but not forgotten waiting to be rescued. If only……
Thank you for your words.
Dennis, You captured my feelings. I try to explain to people who weren’t there , what a great place it was to grow up in from 1945-1968 for me and for my cousins and friends. Dr Huber has captured my history.
This article is very interesting in terms that it has a lot to say, while simultaneously seems to give really crucial history to a place other would seem as so small.
The first sentence in the article says “You’ve been called the “armpit of New England,” and the face you present to the world is a ragged one,” when referring to Bridgeport. This quote is to Establish the place Sonya talks about for the remainder of the article. I think it’s interesting how Sonya so carefully uses the words, has“been called the ‘armpit of New England’” as opposed to “is the ‘armpit of New England.’” This establishes an idea that Bridgeport is seen as one way, but it does not necessarily mean that’s the way it is.
The quote “They drive by and wince at you like a woman who’s been hit and ask, “Why didn’t she leave?” But here you are, the place itself, so leaving is beside the point,” was neat as well. This quote compared people who live in Bridgeport to abuse victims. Women who have been abused have been often told that they “should just leave,” as the situation is nothing but bad for them. Abuse implies a situation in which a victim keeps getting hurt over and over (in this case physically). While she compares living in Bridgeport to abuse victims. People who live in this place keep getting emotionally hurt, perhaps by the lack of opportunity or happiness.
The first 3 sentences of the second paragraph talks about how terrible Bridgeport can be terrible. She mentions the depressing history of it all to both give context to the point she is trying to make, but also goes on for the rest of that paragraph (and the next one) sharing a lot of history behind Bridgeport.
Sonya made an interesting parallel to “Golden Hill” in her fourth paragraph. She used the same hill mentioned in the second paragraph (when speaking about the massacre of the Pequots). Except in the fourth paragraph’s context, the Golden Hill is seen as pretty positive with good food and art to look at. This reinforces that idea that something something can have terrible history behind it, but it doesn’t mean the place is inherently bad.
When Sonya says “no, that wasn’t you, Bridgeport. That man was clearly from somewhere else.” I noticed a common message. The town got a really bad reputation for actions that were coming from other people in different places. She was implying that all of the bad things that happens to that place are not a result of the civilians being corrupt, but people from other places trying to corrupt them.
In the last paragraph Sonya says “I find myself nestled beneath one of your arms.” This is personification to the town of Bridgeport. It may have a lot of bad things about it, but she “was born to love you” and appreciate the good things too.
The last part I found interesting is her quote saying “I love you and every line on your face.” She is saying that this place may be broken, and it has a lot of troubled history, but it isn’t Bridgeport’s fault. The place has gone through so much hardship and people who really appreciate this place appreciate all of it, the good and the bad. Sometimes you have to be more than a tourist to truly understand a place.
Overall, this is an article by Sonya with very interesting ideas and themes.